This December 22, 2023 College Football Bowl Game Union Home Mortgage Gasparilla Bowl
UNION HOME MORTGAGE GASPARILLA BOWL
Georgia Tech vs UCF
12/22/2023 – 6:30 PM EST
2023 Gasparilla Bowl Betting Odds
Opt Outs / Coach Departures:
Georgia Tech’s pass rush will suffer tremendously without edge rusher Kyle Kennard, the team’s sack leader who has now hit the transfer portal. Both teams will also be missing a key cornerback, Kenan Johnson is another major contributor for the Yellow Jackets who is looking for a new home as he’s entered the portal too, while UCF’s only major transfer is Corey Thornton, who led the team with nine passes defended and tied for the most on the squad with three picks.
The Ramblin’ Wreck from Georgia Tech had quite the interesting season, to say the very least. Three times, they played the team ranked #17 in the country at kickoff time, going an impressive 2-1 in those games including nice wins over Miami and North Carolina. The Miami game was one of the most memorable in recent memory, as the Hurricanes had the game won but simply decided not to kneel the ball, subsequently gifting Georgia Tech with a huge fumble and the win. They even pushed the Georgia Bulldogs all game long, although their late comeback attempt fell flat.
Of course, all of that madness averaged out to complete normalcy; the Yellow Jackets finished 6-6, and with a point differential of just +8. While things could have been even better, if not for some disappointing losses, the season still represents a triumph for Tech. They haven’t reached a bowl since 2018, also the last time they were above .500 in the ACC, and haven’t won one since all the way back in 2016. Just making it this far puts a major feather in the cap of head coach Brent Key, who finished up last season on a 4-4 run as an interim after replacing Geoff Collins, who was 1-3 to that point. Key’s first season could be made even more special with a win, so Tech alumni and fans in Atlanta and beyond will be watching with bated breath.
As for the roster itself, quarterback Haynes King was emblematic of the team’s season overall; very exciting with high highs as he racked up nearly 3,500 passing and rushing yards as well as 35 total touchdowns, but also rife with mistakes and lows, as he threw 15 picks. While UCF’s solid pass defense, which ranks 42nd in EPA per play against air offense, might force a few more of those turnovers, King and running back Jamal Haynes, who ran for over 900 yards while averaging six per carry, could have a field day against a terrible ground defense.
UCF’s transition to Power Five football, as overdue as it was, did not go entirely smoothly. The Knights started off 3-0 against a fairly soft non-conference slate, but proceeded to lose each of their first five conference games in the Big 12. They were incredibly unlucky to lose to Baylor in a game they dominated, and even held a fourth quarter lead over Oklahoma, but they got their wins eventually; Gus Malzahn’s squad is coming into this bowl having won three of their final four games, including a dominant upset of conference runners-up Oklahoma State.
This team is definitely better than its record shows; they rank 41st overall in EPA per play, better than several ranked teams. Jumping conferences is rarely easy, so their stumbles are understandable, but a bowl win to secure a record over .500 for the season would really go a long way as the program looks to establish itself at this level, especially as the conference pecking order is upended net year with Texas and Oklahoma headed to the SEC while several Pac-12 squads will be joining
UCF is similar to Georgia Tech in many ways; they run the ball well, but they can’t slow opposing rushers at all. They defend the pass pretty well though, and they’re pretty effective throwing it themselves. Quarterback John Rhys Plumlee, a dual threat in more ways than one as he throws, runs, and also stars for the Knights baseball team, is at the center of everything his team does, and while this wasn’t his most prolific season amidst injury issues, he’ll have plenty of opportunities to take advantage of a Tech defense that won’t be able to deal with his physical gifts. Top wideout Javon Baker will crack the thousand yard mark for this season without Kenan Johnson there to check him, while lead rusher RJ Harvey, already the owner of nearly 1,300 ground yards and 16 scores, will continue to feast against an overmatched front seven.
Both of these teams are really run-heavy, but don’t worry; both rank in the top 40 in pace of play nonetheless. The run defenses are so abysmal, especially compared to the ground offenses on both sides, that even with the clock constantly running, these drives should go quick enough and well enough that there’s time for the score to get well into the 30s for both squads.
The Play: Over 66
This is an article written by Will Schwartz
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